The Learning Curve of Fly Fishing


At First

   When I first got an interest in fly fishing it looked easy. They seemed to just peacefully watch the river for a fish. Make a cast at just that fish. Fight it and with some luck, land it. To me it looked like what I think fishing should be. 

    The way I had been doing it took a lot of effort that the fly fishermen didn’t seem to require. It looked more like catching than fishing and I wanted to learn how to do that.

 I watched a lot of videos and read a lot of articles on how to fly fish. They made it look easy. Not one of them mentioned anything about a learning curve. They even said it’s easy and I believed them.

    I started learning how to cast and some other basics and started trying my luck at it. It WAS easy when I was practicing. Then I went to try and actually catch something.

     My first day did not go as well as I had intended. Neither did the next, or the one after that.

    There was a lot going on between picking a fish and landing it that I hadn't planned on but eventually I did start to catch a few. It even started getting easy, or easier. 

   I was by no means where I wanted to be, but I did at least enjoy it and I did catch fish. It was more peaceful and rewarding than my previous way of fishing.

   Life was good and getting better.


    Until it happened.

   That day I went fishing and “IT” happened.

    There was a trout waiting to ambush some poor unfortunate insect that happened to drift by, and I saw him. It looked like a perfect opportunity to land a nice sized trout. This was a magazine moment. The documentary crew was filming as we went. It would be my first viral video of trout fishing. THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE!

    I got my fly tied on. Got everything ready. Took a position in the stream to present my bait. Got ready to launch my attack on my unsuspecting foe. Then “IT” happened. 

   As I started to cast at what I knew was a sure thing, my brain went numb. To be more precise I went numb as I witnessed the event unfolding.

    This was a cast I had made more times than I could count. There was no wind. There was nothing behind me. There was nothing to cast under. It was a straight shot up stream and a gentle drift in front of the trout which should have ended with a catch, but it didn’t. Well, it did, just not the fish.

  As I came into my back-cast everything I knew about casting got lost in a split second. It was as if I had completely forgotten where I was and what I was doing. In that split second, I panicked for a reason I still have not understood.

  I did the only thing I could think of: “Forward cast and do it quickly. Just get it to the fish however you can.”

   A better idea probably would have been to just stop what I was doing until I figured out what I was doing. 

   And forward went the rod. Just not in the way I had learned to cast. It looked more like swinging a paddle at a tree branch that was about to turn over my canoe. Which I have done with about the same result. 


    I expected the fly to come whizzing by and at least hit somewhere close to the trout. I knew the presentation would not be good but with a little luck maybe it’ll work out.

    Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. This was going to be the bad kind of luck. There was definitely an opportunity unfolding here, just not one I wanted. I was not prepared for this moment. The “probably won't but could happens” were happening.


    Paddles are not the best thing to cast flies with. You lose a lot of control over where the fly will end up when you cast it with a paddle like you're wielding a medieval weapon.

   Sure, some of the line went where I wanted it to go but that was about it.

   Then I felt something in my shoulder. Like a hornet had gotten mad at my lack of technique and was going to punish me for it.


” Why does God put so much pain in something so small?”


   When I realized what the stinging in my shoulder really was, it was too late. I was hooked.

   This is not why I carry a multitool, but I was glad I had it. I had to reach over my right shoulder, with the multitool in my left hand, while looking in my sideview mirror on my car and attempt to remove the thing that did not belong there.

    I’m right-handed. Trying to line up my left hand over my right shoulder, while looking in a mirror over my right shoulder, and trying to remove a fly from it was a challenge unto itself. Just getting a grip on it took what seemed like all afternoon. Then came the fun part. Pulling it out.

   Trying to do this slowly and easily didn’t work. It had decided it belonged in my shoulder and didn’t want to be evicted. I had to get more forceful in my stand that it didn’t belong.

   It’s hard to describe the sharp sting of pain that something so small can inject into you. It hurts even more when you RIP it OUT with a quick jerk. 

 It wasn't a lethal wound by any means but it was an eye opener. I was definitely awake.

   What the heck just happened?

    It’s not like I was new to that cast or to catching fish, so, WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED?

    My brain didn’t want to respond because it knew it had been involved in the fiasco. It was pleading the fifth on the grounds it would incriminate itself. Rightfully so. All it had to do was keep quiet and let it happen like it had done on many other occasions.

   I took a few moments to get my composure before I went back down to the stream. I wasn’t going to try and catch a fish this time, I just wanted to prove to myself I knew how to cast.


   Something had changed. I was second guessing everything I was doing.


   Yesterday I knew what I was doing to a degree. There were still a ton of casts and things I haven't learned yet but the basics I thought I had down. Till now.

    My brain made a mistake and was making even more to cover it up. Trying to make it look like my arms didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Everything was too fangled up to continue.


    I went home to figure this out. I needed to pinpoint where my problem was and correct it. It didn’t take me long either.

   The problem was my HEAD. My brain was getting in the way of doing.

   I had gotten used to making this cast and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. In that split second during the back cast my brain woke up and tried to think its way through it which ended in disaster. I probably had the same experience with spin casters too when I was first learning how to fish but it had been so long since I had done that, I didn't remember it. Using a bait caster or spin caster is second nature to me. I rarely have to think about casting or fighting a fish on those types of rod and reels. My brain never gets in the way. The only thing it usually does is pick out a lure, then I’m on autopilot.

    This means the only way through it is to keep going. Keep learning and most likely making a lot more mistakes on the way.

   Wonderful news! It’ll get worse before it gets better. I love the learning curve of learning new things.

   Just to add a little something extra to this epiphany, the thing I learn with my brain, is what I have to learn not to use, AGAIN.


   The real question is WHY THEN?

   Prior to that morning I was catching fish and pretty much happy with the way it was going. Then when something I already knew how to do presented itself my brain fouled it up. 

   I could see this happening if I was trying something I wasn’t comfortable with, but this should have been easy. So WHY THEN?


    I will probably never understand why that day when it should have been easy my brain decided it was time to learn something else, but I will continue to work on it.

   Will I keep fly fishing?


   Are my expectations lower?


 Should fishing videos have warning labels that say” We have been doing this a very long time and it’s all second nature. It will take you a while to get like this. You will have catastrophic days in the process!


  They made it look way too easy without saying anything about the learning curve. It gets easy, then it gets hard. Then it gets easy, finally it will be second nature. Then you’ll still have THOSE DAYS! There is no end to the “probably won't but could happens.”

    That’s the way it is with most things we learn. I guess it’s how we learn, that’s not really my field of expertise. Fishing, the outdoors, things like this are but how our brains work and why they get in the way sometimes is a mystery I don’t really need the answer to. Sounds more complicated than I really care to put the time into understanding. Even if I do understand it, it will still happen.

   I’m looking forward to the day when it gets easier again. Till it gets harder again. I’m dedicated, at least to this. The violin is a different story but eventually I will learn how to play that thing too. Eventually I will learn a lot of things in life. God doesn’t usually give us all the answers at once. There is a learning curve.

   I will keep everyone updated on my progress, good and bad. Maybe it will help the next person get through the downward part of the learning curve. Good Luck!


Live by Faith. Love the Outdoors. Life is Out HERE!

written by Benjamin Evans